Barry Zito’s return to Oakland is precisely the kind of potential feelgood story that Billy Beane always eschewed. So why not have it unfold anyway, if only for the potential cinematic benefits?
Beane is the ultimate non-romantic baseball man, Brad Pitt notwithstanding. He is largely metric in his baseball thinking, he believes that clubhouse chemistry ranks behind tusk size in a team’s development, and when it comes to throwing a bone to the fans, he prefers the time-honored sharpened femur hurled like a javelin at an exposed neck.
In other words, Barry Zito is as appealing an idea to Beane as voting for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for President.
And yet there is Zito, a new Athletics minor league contract holder who could make $1 million for making the Elephants’ Opening Day roster and another $175,000 if he hits incentives that include convincing Beane he is a worthwhile recipient of the original M.
I take no position on whether he should be an A, or why the A’s came this close to actually pandering to its fan base for one of the rare times in its recent history. If he makes the team, fair play to him, and may the feature stories flow copiously and with great florid touches.
But this is still so non-Beaneian as to stagger the preconception. Yes, Zito was part of Beane’s second draft class and was the third member of the Hudson-Mulder-Zito draft troika. Yes, his best years were Oakland’s (although he surely enjoyed 2006, when he became a $126 millionaire in San Francisco, and 2012, when he got a World Series ring to make people stop making fun of his status as a $126 millionaire), but Beane’s biases run closer to pitchers half Zito’s age.
So why Zito? Why has Beane decided to defy yet another one of his skew-young-and-metrically-defensible biases?
Well, maybe Wilhelm is deciding to come out of his shell and become a more whimsical general manager as he heads toward his second decade in the job. Maybe watching people scratch their heads in baffled wonderment (and wondered bafflement) amuses him more than it used to. Maybe he is mellowing as it becomes clearer to him that the postseason just isn’t his milieu, so he may as well play the regular season more for snicks and giggles. Maybe he wants to make the number thugs at MLB Network cry on air.
I mean, we’d all like that, wouldn’t we? Beane going all red-nosed, seltzer-bottled and clown-shoed – who couldn’t find that irresistibly charming?
Or maybe there is something more sinister at work. Maybe he sees a sequel to Moneyball, in which Benedict Cumberbatch reprises the Brad Pitt role from the original, only as a weirdly joyful little pixie who has absurdly turned 15 years younger while the story has advanced by 13 years. His newfound impish side clashes with his math-heavy baseball acumen to render his front office acolyte army catatonic with bewilderment.
Maybe this is a radical re-imagining of the Brad Pitt movie, with Larry David as Lew Wolff, Steve Buscemi as Josh Reddick, Matthew McConaughey as Zito, Jordan Peele as Coco Crisp, and in a particularly hallucinatory tour de force, actress, comedian and poker pro Victoria Coren Mitchell as Bob Melvin.
I mean, who wouldn’t watch that, especially a hard afternoon’s drinking?
Or maybe Zito still has life as a player, and we would be rude not to consider it a possibility.
But I’m going with the movie idea. Because, in keeping with the Zito signing, why the hell not?